Monday, October 29, 2012

The Inspirational World of Fine Art: Artist LIzzie Spikes

In an earlier post of my Fine Art series, I talked about a slogan for my art studio: "Making the World a Better Place through Art." But as I mentioned in a brief interview to Artsy Shark this week, I tweaked it to be: "Partnering to Make the World a Better Place through Art." It summarizes even better my main purpose for doing what I do because, truly, I work with many wonderful people - from other designers and artists to manufacturers - so it's really team work. And to me that's fun, inspirational and rewarding!

Artist Lizzie Spikes
This UK artist I am about to present is also very inspirational and fun. Her art is very close to my heart - she paints on driftwood. Her name is Lizzie Spikes and she is an arts graduate who lives, works and walks on the beautiful West coast of Wales. Lizzie says: "I live on the way to the middle of nowhere near Aberystwyth and I create a great many of my paintings on canvases fashioned from the driftwood that I find washed up Ceredigions beaches. The planks and other wooden flotsam and jetsam show evidence of their previous uses and users and I try to incorporate this into my work. I work with and am inspired by the layers of old paint, the nail holes and the man made shapes along with the forms fashioned by the sea in order to create original and inspiring canvases for my painting. I hope to give these pieces of wood new life and purpose."

© Lizzie Spikes
The Moon from My Attic: What brought you to art in the first place? I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember- very rarely does a day go by without me picking up a pencil or paintbrush. I love the sense of calm and removal from reality that I get when I am involved in making a piece. As to where it all began - my siblings and I grew up in rural Ceredigion in what we described as ‘the middle of nowhere’ and every Saturday morning a friend of our mum's called Haley gave an art class. We crammed into the back room of her cottage and discovered how to do collage, pottery and papier mache, how to make puppets and boats and bowls and how to realize what it was that we had in our heads. These art classes gave a focus to our weeks through primary and secondary school and a large number of Haley's past pupils have gone on to practice art and crafts.

© Lizzie Spikes
TMFMA: What's exciting about your creative work? What I find most exciting about my work is the element of the unknown implicit in using found objects. I march along the local beaches and collect the driftwood pieces that will dictate what it is that I am going to make. I usually know immediately what it is that I will turn the wood pieces into and it means that I always have new inspiration and a freshness in what I do.

TMFMA: Who has inspired you in your art journey? Many people and places have influenced me artistically - the main one being the teachers and tutors who I have encountered throughout my artistic education. I have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some very interesting and inspiring people who have encouraged and inspired me a great deal. My younger sister, Dorry Spikes, is an illustrator and I am always amazed and inspired by what she creates.

© Lizzie Spikes
TMFMA: Tell us about a recent project you'd like to share. For the past eight years I have worked around being a full time mother to my two young sons - Jacob and Ollie. I found that having to focus on the boys gave me a sense of freedom from my own expectations and those of others and enabled me to make and create with a new found enjoyment. Ollie has just started school and I am gearing up to make new pieces for the Christmas shows and markets that I will have time to attend. I have an exhibition scheduled in Cardiff next Spring and my plan is to create pieces based on places along the length of the newly opened Welsh Coastal path … a winter of walking and sketching awaits and I can hardly wait.

TMFMA: Any other info that you'd like to share about? My sister's work can be seen at

© Dorry Spikes 

My cousin who lives over the hill is also fab - she works more in textiles (felt making, screen printing, sewing) and her name is Ruth Packham. You can find her on Facebook as Ruth Packham Art.

© Ruth Packham

Find out more about Lizzie at:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Style, Theme and Technique in Art Licensing - Artist Kat McDonough

Phew! It's been over two months since I've been balancing some work while also entertaining several distant family guests. I am a little exhausted but happy to be getting back to my art projects and my first one this week is to introduce my next artist, Kat McDonough.

"I consider myself a work-in-progress. I've pursued a career in children's illustration for many years now, along with creating fine art and commissioned pet portraits." As much as she enjoyed making the art, she wasn't having the level of success she desired, nor did she feel passionate about her work, Kat says. Then she adds, "recently, I decided to take a good hard look at my career goals and my art. I actually began to ask myself if I should continue to pursue a career in art at all."

Artist Kat McDonough
Two serendipitous things occurred as she sent that question into the universe, to use her phrase. First, she joined a wonderful critique group of talented artists. And second, she received the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield as a gift. Kat says, "my critique group gave encouragement and guidance while I experimented with new materials and danced outside my comfort zone. The War of Art cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had about my professional approach to being a full time artist. It's a stop-messing-around, get down to business and listen to the right voice in your head type of book. These two influences recharged my art making and clarified my goals for the future."

© Kat McDonough
Style and Theme - She considers her art to be humorous, playful and sometimes making a statement in a subtle or humorous way. She uses pit bulls as her subjects in a lot of paintings. "They are America's misunderstood dog. And they are beautiful creatures to paint," Kat says. She thinks she loves painting cats and dogs so much because she loves the research.

Technique - "To liven up my work, I tried different mediums and tools. I've had great success with painting knives and acrylics using an impasto technique. Being a rookie with the knives, I had to let go of trying to achieve the perfect line or mark. Now I love the quirky marks they make. They immediately energized my paintings."

A teacher once mentioned to her that he had to find the right medium for his personality. Kat adds, "I should have taken heed earlier. Finally, I'm no longer fighting for control over the paint and it falling short of my expectations. Now I make art that is more me than any I had ever created before. I feel it has a broader appeal as well - exactly the kind of art I've always wanted to make." Her main technique is to paint, paint and repaint. "It's no wonder I never mastered watercolors," she says. "Acrylics allow me to paint until I feel it's right. I do very little planning.

© Kat McDonough
I choose a limited palette and make a simple drawing on the canvas. Once I start, the triangle of palette, canvas and me becomes my sacred space. I can't make a mistake. I refuse to doubt I'll get to the right place in the end. It must be what Jazz musicians feel like as they play. I get a rhythm going and I let my intuition decide when to stop."

But besides the dog, the kid, and the alarm, what gets Kat up in the morning? "My cats! They've become more stylized than my dogs and fit into all of my favorite themes: Americana, beach and folk art. Once I included them in a series of family portraits, they all got names and started telling me their stories. They're dying to be introduced to world."

© Kat McDonough
As for inspiration, furry faces are the focus of her work but her main inspiration is always character and narrative. "I relish a good story," Kat mentions. "I fall in love with intriguing characters. That is the type of artwork that inspires me, whether on a gallery wall, in a picture book or on a tote bag. It's what I hope my artwork conveys."

Now that her style has completely changed, she is painting, painting, and painting. Once she has a larger body of work, she'll approach those companies with whom her style would be a good fit. "For now, I have some items for sale on Cafepress and am investigating other places to sell prints and cards. I'm learning so much from great resources like your blog, Alex, and the generous contributors to the Art of Licensing group," Kat says. "It's a learning curve not unlike children's illustration. Patience, persistence and practice go a long way when you have a long way to go. I'm quite a happy traveler, though, with lovely companions."

© Kat McDonough

To contact Kat:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Alternative to Licensing Representation: by Guest Author agent Laurie High

This is the second post being published on this blog that has been written by a Guest Author. We thought that her article could be helpful to other artists. Please feel free to let us know your thoughts about this topic.

An Alternative to Licensing Representation, by Laurie High. Parker Fulton, along with two partners, started Creative Connection, Inc. in 1991 with a vision of securing jobs for fellow Artists and ensuring fair contracts for them as well as for the clients. Very quickly, Creative Connection, Inc. was representing fifty artists. Parker's original partners were unable to continue with the new business due to personal complications, and she had a choice to make – close up shop or find another partner. Not wanting to disappoint all of those artists, she asked her daughter (me) to join and to help run the business. While I didn't have any artistic background or experience, I did have business experience and schooling. So, together we have grown Creative Connection, Inc. to what it is today. We did, however, lower our preferred maximum number of artists to a more manageable twenty which we find to be ideal.

The pool of incredible artists is over-flowing. We receive requests each week for representation from wonderfully talented individuals. Unfortunately, we have to turn away most of them. We have been blessed to always stay at full capacity, and except for the initial search for artists back in 1991, have never needed to seek artists. This doesn't mean we will necessarily say no to an inquiring artist, because an artist's portfolio may include a subject and/or style that we are lacking.

When an artist approaches us for representation, the first thing we look for is art that is well done and compatible with our art. Secondly, we look for overlap. If the art is too similar to that of an artist we already represent, then we must decline representation. Overlapping too closely would not be fair to them or to the artist we already have with that style/subject matter. However, there are exceptions to this rule such as the need for more than one floral or wildlife artist. Third, we look for how heavily they are already licensed. If they are heavily licensed, then they are probably already working with several of our clients. In that case, we do ask for more information, i.e. the types of current licenses. While these are some of the most important things to consider, we also pay attention to how well they communicate and are reachable, if they are showing us their best art and if it is presented well, etc. All of our artists are also very kind, caring and trustworthy individuals, and that is extremely important.

When an artist is considering which agency they would like to go with for representation, they should consider the talent, styles of art and subject matter that the agency is currently representing along with the number of artists. Commission rate, exclusivity vs. non-exclusivity, reputation and term are additional things to think about.

Contracts vary from Rep. to Rep. Our commission is at the lower end of the scale, and thus we charge our artists to participate in shows, particularly Surtex. We have found Surtex to be the most lucrative show as far as securing new clients and jobs from existing clients. So, it is incredibly important that our artists participate in this show although we do not require them to do so. In addition, we are non-exclusive so the clients that our artists get on their own, they keep as their own. However, in several cases our artists have asked us to take over all of their clients thus enabling them to concentrate fully on creating. In these cases, we link directly to their personal websites, since they are listing us as the sole contact for licensing.

At any point, our contracts can be terminated with one month notice by either the artist or us. If this happens, any clients that we have secured for the artist during the term of the contract remain our clients for 2 years following termination. All current licensing agreements remain in effect as originally contracted whether or not they go beyond that 2 year period. Artists are free to contact any clients we have secured for them following that 2 year period. Agents spend years building a client base and relationships with those clients, so it is extremely important for the agency to maintain these clients for that two year period. However, on a case by case basis, we may decide to shorten this period of time, i.e. letting the artist work directly with a particular client immediately following termination. We do not want the termination of the contract to be a burden for an artist or to cause an artist to miss out on possible assignments.

Ours is just one agency, and every agency handles things a bit differently. Some charge a higher percentage, are exclusive and pay for all other expenses. We take a lower percentage but do charge our artists to participate in Surtex and other shows in which we display their art. Providing a trustworthy environment for all of our business dealings is of utmost importance to us. We value the relationships we have with our artists, clients and everyone in this field.

If you would like to visit our website, it is:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Born with a Passion for Art - Artist Ronnie Walter

This has been a pretty introspective week; a lot of ideas and thoughts that I've been having over the last several weeks started coming together in unexpected ways. It's all been very good, though a bit overwhelming as I begin to ponder the implications of the possibilities they present as well as the amount of work it will take to achieve them.

Like I said, all good, but time to roll up my sleeves! 

This week, I'd like to present the very pleasant Ronnie Walter of Two Town Studios, Inc., and hear about her adventure as a licensing artist.

Artist Ronnie Walter
The Moon From My Attic: Please introduce yourself - I'm Ronnie Walter, an artist and writer and, along with my husband Jim Marcotte, one of the owners of Two Town Studios, Inc. which is an art licensing agency. A long time ago I went to art school, earned a fine arts degree and then had approximately 9000 bad jobs before I started licensing my artwork.

TMFMA: What brought you to art in the first place? I've always been an artist, it just took me a while to actually make a living at it. I was one of those kids who couldn't NOT draw, I always thought it was one of the most fun things to do. Ever. I was the obsessive margin doodler and the kid who drew things for other kids. My first art director was Michael Rose, another fifth grader who walked up to me in class and demanded that I "draw a leg on this girl." I did it, of course, and that set me up for drawing pretty much anything anybody wanted me to do including the Monkee's logo, cute kitties and race cars. I never questioned that an artist was what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I just kept at it until someone eventually paid me for doing it.

What's exciting about your creative work? I pretty much love all of it but I think the idea generation and early art process is my favorite time - when everything is still possible. I am very much about the content and concept, so for me nailing what I'm trying to say comes before any paint hits paper. Most of what I have been doing lately starts with the writing and I really enjoy sitting down with a big old mug of tea and a notebook and working through what I'm trying to communicate.

What's your favorite medium/tools to create with? If I do handwork, I use gouache as a transparent medium, using a Rotring pen for my line work. In the past few years, I've been creating more of my work directly on the computer and I use a Wacom tablet and a program called SketchbookPro that mimics my watercolor and line look pretty well. Also, I can work in layers so changes are way easier than on paper! I also use Photoshop to manipulate images and build my collections but I am far from being an expert. I have joked that if Photoshop was a $10 bill, I'd know about 35 cents, but so far it's working for me. I have become very good at watching tutorials on YouTube and Googling problems. I do become a teeny bit better at it daily. It's definitely a process.

Who or what has inspired you in your art? As a child, I adored Charles Schultz and I have always enjoyed studying how he portrayed so many emotions with such simple drawings. I love to see the drawings and sketchbooks of the great illustrators. On an emotional level, I am inspired by the notion that one of my main jobs is to help people communicate; to say the things that might be hard in a conversation. That keeps me motivated to find new ways to say something meaningful, whether it's through the sentiment, humor or the graphics.

How long have you been licensing your art? What do like about it? I signed my first license in 1994, near the beginning of art licensing as we know it now. There were certainly other people that were doing it by then, but the most successful artists at that time were well-known for other things like stationery and greeting cards. Mary Engelbreit, Suzy's Zoo and Debbie Mumm were the leaders of the pack at that time, but more and more artists who were not that well known were starting to license their art onto products. It was (and still is) an exciting time in the industry. I really enjoy working this way, particularly the collaborative nature of the deals and for the most part, the people I work with are clever, creative and motivated people.

What brought you to exhibit for the first time? I exhibited for the first time at the Licensing Show (now the Licensing Expo) in New York in 1996. I shared a booth with my pal and awesome artist Cathy Heck. It was a great experience and I did manage to get a few deals out of the show. I didn't exhibit again until 2000 after Jim and I had started Two Town Studios. We have exhibited at Surtex every year since then except for one, and most years at the Licensing Expo, now in Las Vegas. I believe in the shows for the most part. We have three days of meetings, lots of laughs with our friends and clients, and generally leave stimulated and ready for the next cycle of creativity. But of course it's a huge expense and an artist needs to understand that it could be years until you see the payoff in terms of contracts and royalties – sometimes that's a tough sell to your significant other!

Do you work with an agent or represent yourself? For the first 7 years I was representing myself and then Jim and I decided to start our own agency in 2000. Some of the artists who worked for me when I was an art director had been asking me to represent them, but I really didn't want to do it all myself. When I met Jim he was in the process of selling his business and representing other artists seemed like it could be a great use of both of our talents. It turned out we were right! We have a good mix of skills and we enjoy each other's company—a very important quality when you work with your husband! We both have sales backgrounds and we share the client and artist communication. Jim also negotiates the contracts, manages the royalties and handles much of the other administrative side of the business, which leaves me time to develop my own creative concepts.

What is your view of what an ideal agent should be? Obviously, an agent needs to have a well developed understanding of the marketplace, a good creative eye, needs to know and be able to get along with a lot of different personalities. Although we are not in the training business, I feel part of the role of an agent is help an artist develop their look and message for our audience of manufacturers. My experience as an artist has helped with that as I can look at a concept in the early stages and help the artist develop it into a workable collection. We tend to have a bit of back and forth with the artists we represent but I know not all agencies do that. This is one of the reasons we keep a fairly tight roster of artists.

How does one go about getting licensing deals? There are many ways to skin that cat! Paths to success can range from exhibiting at shows, answering calls for design, sending appropriate images to selected manufacturers, developing mailers, and some very successful artists have even been discovered on Etsy. Most artists I know use a combination of these activities, depending on the time of year and what they have to offer. No matter which way you choose, having compelling work, a cooperative attitude and patience are going to be the keys to success.

What do you suggest new artists do to present themselves to the world of licensing for the first time? A clear presentation of your work is most important. Look around at the competition and honestly ask yourself if your work can stand up next to theirs. Get your hands on some of the magazines that showcase artists in our market (like ArtBuyer Magazine,Total Licensing and Gifts and Dec). Explore some art licensing websites. These are expeditious ways of seeing a lot of your competition and how they work in a concise way. I believe that designs should be shown as a collection, with a title and maybe a short paragraph describing what it's about. Showing how a collection can be used is very important, even if it never turns into the products you have developed. It shows a manufacturer two things—first, you are showing them how the design can be applied to different forms and it also shows that you are "thinking product." Over the years this has become very important since in-house staffs have become smaller and not everyone can visualize how something will look on product. But be thoughtful about how you design products—the "decal approach" is not particularly effective—meaning using the same illustration and icons over and over without regard to whether or not it makes sense on the object.

What advice would you give other artists that are considering the art licensing field? First, you need to have something to say! I think the most compelling work I've seen in the market these past few years has a clear point of view and a pretty obvious message. The art needs to be well done and the presentation clear. Our clients make decisions on what art they want to consider very quickly and your work needs to engage them just as quickly. On the other hand, decisions on what they actually want to PRODUCE can take an excruciatingly long time! The other advice I would give is to have another way to make a living while you are heading down this road (a super rich relative would be nice, but they are very hard to come by!). Jim and I have always joked that this is a "Get Rich Slow" scheme and you need to be looking at it in the long view. Also, the world has changed a lot in the past few years. Products do not stay on the market as long as they used to, sku counts are way down, and there are many, many more artists coming into the field. So this means your efforts have to be increased, you need to continually come up with new ideas and your financial expectations may need to be "adjusted." Have I scared you yet? Oh, yeah—and whether or not you have an agent, you need to build your own audience through your website, maybe a blog and certainly with various forms of social media. Manufacturers are more likely to pay attention when you come to them with a platform of pre-qualified followers.

In your view, what was of major interest to manufacturers this year? Any trends? In the past few years we've seen growth with very concise, stand-alone message based properties. Our manufacturers are looking for both a point of view and strong art/graphics. The types of collections that we have been showcasing lately fall quickly into the "yes" or "no" category for a licensee – we're trying to stay out of the slush pile of "maybes." It's a higher risk approach but it has worked very well for us. On the other hand, seasonal art and everyday events (new baby, birthday, wedding, etc.) need to be continually refreshed. Artists need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack by staying fresh but still working within the categories that sell. Not an easy task. Trend-wise, I'm seeing a lot more hand drawn looks as the design pendulum swings away from the very graphic vector based art and patterns of recent years. I think the consumer is looking for products that look like an artist did it rather than a computer. That also dovetails with retro designs that harken back to the illustration looks from the sixties and seventies. Hand drawn and chalkboard type is also very strong right now.

Any other useful information that you'd like to share about art licensing? To be successful you need to be in this for the long haul, and over that long haul you need to keep showing up with new ideas and new designs. I believe that dreams do come true, but only if they are backed up with hard work, the willingness to adapt to our changing markets and an open mind to new ideas. And if it's not any fun, then you're in the wrong business!

Ronnie's contact info:
facebook: Ronnie Walter Writes and Draws
twitter: @myfriendronnie

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Special Interview with Angela Menendez, Director of Merchandizing for Garnet Hill

My journey in art licensing has been an intense and interesting experience so far – I began in October of last year painting my first collection after reading about licensing for several months prior to that. This past January I was offered representation and off I went to a new adventure that took me to Surtex in May. In recent weeks I have decided to represent myself, so I am now out in the open ocean again, sailing away, charting my own course through the maze of this industry. As our special guest says below, I want to build partnerships directly with clients that will help build my brand.

My birthday is in October, too, so I thought to celebrate it with my licensing contract with Magnet Works – my Desert Garden design has been featured as part of their beautiful new Spring/Summer 2013 collection – and by inaugurating a new twist in this adventure with my first interview from the other side of the licensing business.

After meeting her at Surtex 2012, we're happy to introduce Angela Menendez, the Director of Merchandizing for fabulous Garnet Hill, who was gracious enough to let us interview her about the field from the perspective of a manufacturer and retailer.

The Moon From My Attic: Could you give us all a little background of yourself and how you got into this field?

© Garnett Hill
Angela Menendez: Well, I feel like now I have a dream job with Garnet Hill. We are small enough to have a team that works collaboratively, so I work really closely with the design team from concept to product finalization. The head designer and I shop the market looking for trends and inspirations and she will come up with themes and color palettes based on that. Then I'll work with her to build the assortment, so we're really an interesting balance, where I'll come in with what I would recommend for product expansion and categories of emphasis for a season and then we build the line together. We're very lucky to have a small but very talented team.

I've been here about 4 years, and prior to this I was VP of Merchandizing for Plow and Hearth, a retailer based in Virginia, and in that environment it was much more of a hard goods environment. We sold everything from apparel to hearth products to garden furniture. There we didn't have a design team per se so I worked more with designers who worked with vendors or once in awhile we'd hire freelancers to do certain projects. Still I was pretty hands-on in that world. Prior to that I was with LL Bean in product development, and LL Bean is such a large corporation that there roles are a little bit more defined. I was working much more off-the-shelf and the product development team was a separate team. I've learned that I actually really enjoy being part of a slightly smaller company that's design focused and where I can get my hands "dirty" in the work!

© Garnett Hill
TMFMA: It definitely sounds like the closer you are to being right in the middle of the work and the action, the happier you are - you can even hear it in your voice! Besides the collaboration dynamics of your job, are there other aspects of your work that you find really satisfying and inspiring, as well as what things do you find challenging?

AM: I think for me the most exciting part of a project is the inception, the initial development of the product ideas, working with color and fabrics and putting the stories together to identify and create a vision for what something needs to be - at this point you're right in the middle of that creative process. This is especially elevating when you work in conjunction with someone who you really understand and have such a strong relationship with. When we each come up with a vision for something, most of the time we have the same vision - or similar enough that we can visualize things immediately.

We don't take that for granted, because it takes so many years of close collaboration to get to that kind of dynamic in a relationship. The peak experience, of course, is when you get to see a design come to fruition and then go through all the iterations with the vendor and then be able to stand back and say, "yes, this is exactly what we wanted it to be." We sell luxury goods, very lovely products, and we take a great deal of pride in them and really sweat the details; for me, that part is also really exciting.

© Garnett Hill
On the other hand, it's a pretty high stress job because it's very deadline intensive and we put out about a 150 products per season, so it's a lot of work and it's all very fast. The frustrating part of it, especially for the design team, is that it's art but it's also production. As a result, there are many times when we have to make trade-offs - knowing we could continue to evolve something and improve it, but that it's really good enough to go forward with it as it is. With most every product, we have to find that balance between the integrity of the work itself and what we know is going to sell, and take it just to that point to keep it moving in development. Many times there are purely practical compromises that you have to make during the process, based on pricing or production efficiency, and when we have to do that it's a judgement call and it's always a trade-off of that original vision and idea.

TMFMA: Is that the same kind of frustration that you have to deal with when you buy art from another artist rather than producing it in-house?

© Garnett Hill
AM: When we buy a piece of art from an artist we usually see something in the artwork itself, sort of an underlying spirit in the original piece that we want to preserve. In our case, since we will often modify the art quite a bit, we prefer to buy it outright rather than license it. The design team might buy the art, then rescale it and prepare it for wide-width printing (for fabric) and for the screen printing process, we'll have to also reduce the number of colors. If we buy something that's really painterly or needs to have a cleaner background or cleaner lines, we need the freedom to do that. It's not that it's frustrating, but if we have to do too much of that, it can change the character of the original art and then we should have just started with something else. We've developed such a good, strong relationships with the artists we work with so they really trust what we do with their art, which is also a great credit to how we work with artists here and in the U.K.

© Garnett Hill
TMFMA: When you are looking at other artists or scouting out designs, it sounds like you already have some concepts, products, and themes in mind, and in that frame of mind something clicks with an artist you come across. Is that sort of how it works?

AM: Yes, although it can work both ways. We can go to the market with an idea, like we were in Paris at Bon Marché a couple of years ago and they had these really cool lines that "stuck" right away. This sparked some ideas about how it would be pretty cool to do a home theme. In fact, a lot of people on both the design and merchandizing side of the company had that same coincidental, parallel thought process - in addition, it was right after the royal wedding. We were all thinking the same thing even though we hadn't read anything about it or talked about it yet, so suddenly four of us came out with very similar themes. Some design themes emerged out of that trip and we went looking for certain things. But, we also go to shows and see something that's so fabulous that we'll decide that we need to build a story around this - so it can work both ways.

© Garnett Hill
TMFMA: From the standpoint where you bump up against art like that from outside, where do you typically scout for or find new art?

AM: We do go to shows like Surtex, but more and more often we are also looking online and looking at design blogs - the blog-sphere has become a major influencer, so we're looking there as well. And if we are thinking of something and we haven't found it, then we'll commission different things depending on the artists' hands, such as if we have someone who is really graphic or someone who is working with cut-outs, or someone else who does hand drawing.

TMFMA: When you're either scouting or bumping up against artwork or artists, it sounds like for you it's less relevant that they have a complete collection as opposed to that you can see a real style and consistent hand.

AM: Yes - we're essentially looking for a unique point of view. At the last Surtex, we actually found a couple of designers who were new; it was their first show and they had just been together about 6 months. As a result, they really didn't have a huge amount to show. But, what they did have was so cool and so fun that we commissioned some things from them. And, we said, "you know what, we can't use what you have here but could you do this for us." They just had a hand that we thought would work for Garnet Hill, and they were happy to start working with us. An important part of it is just that personal interest and passion around the art and the product that makes it worth the effort - it's not just about commerce, but bringing this idea to fruition together. That can just be incredibly satisfying when you have a good relationship.

© Garnett Hill
TMFMA: It sounds like the relationship side of the equation is equally if not more important when you're working with outside artists.

AM: Absolutely. As part of that relationship we need to be comfortable - the relationship can help overcome the ego part of it. If you as an artist are coming in with something or an idea and it can't be modified, if you have the mindset that it can't be changed, then you're self-limiting. However, even if you've spent hours painting something up, if the prospective buyer wants to change it and you are OK with that, it allows the relationship to open up. And, ultimately, that is the most important part of the whole enterprise, the development of that collaborative partnership.

TMFMA: Another aspect of your work that would be interesting to learn is how do you balance the ability to set trends as well as know when or how to follow them?

© Garnett Hill
AM: Yes, this is a tricky part of the business. Since we work about 18 months out we have to anticipate what trends are going to be. But we also consciously select and edit the trends. We were talking about something just the other day with one of our art directors, looking around to see if we're missing anything, and she said, "you know what, there are some things we just don't have to touch." And she's right. Again, it comes to that point of view because otherwise if you're watering it down and you don't have a strong point of view, then the customer is going to also be confused. And in that confusion they're going to go buy somewhere else.

TMFMA: You still have to hold true to your own sensibilities and your own ideas. So given that, what are some of your favorite trends that you do resonate with right now?

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AM: I like that whole trend of high-low decorating, where people are essentially gathering things that they love - it's less about whether it's cheap or expensive. It's sort of a personally edited eclecticism where are homes and our spaces need to be more reflections of our personal biographies, of where we've traveled and what we love and love to do, and our families, and not worrying so much about looking decorated or which period it comes from. There's also this factor where there is furniture that we've inherited from our parents or we've bought at flea markets or whatever so all these things that we've purchased or made ourselves or repainted or revamped, there's just a lot of authenticity to that, and I like the fact that big collection designers are touting that rather than having everything staged. Also, I think the more uncertainty there is in the world, the natural instinct is to turn in and make our spaces safe, comfortable and reflections of us.

TMFMA: There is something very engaging about things becoming more personally meaningful to individual consumers.

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AM: Yes, and I would also say that people aren't afraid to spend quite a bit of money on a few things that have a great deal of meaning. But, for the things that need to be commoditized, then they'll look for the lowest price or best value. Our customer in general understands the value in investing in one or two good pieces rather than buying multiples. It doesn't mean we don't have things that are also reasonably priced, but even still there is a basic level of quality that you can expect.

TMFMA: So it's like the product also carries an emotional aspect, rather than just a piece of art or home decor...

AM: Yes - a lot of our Garnet Hill prints this fall have a sheet pattern that includes retro clocks - and they're kind of funny when you think of it, putting clocks on a bed. However, we thought it was funny and had a mid-century retro look and we had already sold a few pieces with it, so we just went with it. It's the kind of thing that makes people laugh. So we want to make people really comfortable and cozy. We also want to get that emotional response.

© Garnett Hill
TMFMA: It must be really challenging, when I think of your business, that when the market evolves and commerce becomes meaningful, then the market itself becomes really sophisticated and so how do you build meaning into the products you're selling?

AM: I think the trend is towards enhanced web content - people want to know what they're buying and why. They want to know where we make it, what's gone into it, they want to know what's inspired us. If they resonate with that, then they're more likely to buy it. I like that meaningful commerce phrase. We're really fortunate to be working with vendors and suppliers who look at the whole supply chain.

TMFMA: Something about information and the availability of information that makes this all very interesting.

AM: Yes, and it's about consciousness - doing things consciously versus just automatically.

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TMFMA: As a final question, do you have any tips, thoughts, or perspectives that someone getting into art licensing could benefit from - for example, when working with you?

AM: We were talking about design integrity and that point of view is important, to know where you stand and to be aware of which areas you can be flexible. Also, to understand what you want as an artist - do you want your designs represented only in certain markets or in certain ways. If so, you need to be discriminating about entering into relationships. We buy artwork outright instead of licensing, partly because we may use artwork for home but the ready-to-wear team may also want to use it, so it might have multiple uses and we like the flexibility to do that. As the artist/designer, you should understand how you want to brand yourself; it's very important.

© Garnett Hill
Also, listening and building the relationship. You're listening to the market, you're listening to what the vendors are asking of you and sharing with you. Then you need to be that tireless student of pop culture, taking it all in and interpreting what you see.

TMFMA: Right - that's the inspiration part. You have to take it all in and transform it and make it come from yourself.

AM: That's correct - and I believe that in that unique point of view is the soul.

TMFMA: Thank you again - we appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with us!

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